Myrta Barvie believes in Karma. When I asked her what inspired her to the world of Indian classical dances, she took a deep breath and looked at me serenely- like the Gurus do when their disciples ask philosophical questions- and said, ¨ It is the Indian Karma. I was seventeen years old when I was introduced to the legendary Rukmini Devi who visited Argentina on a theosophical mission. I was inspired by her. I realised instantly that India was my Karma. I was so thrilled when Rukmini Devi offered me a scholarship to study in Kalakshetra. I jumped up at the offer and was on the next flight to Chennai. Oh how the time has passed.. It is fifty years¨
Myrta Barvie has dedicated five decades of her life to Indian dances and has become an icon. She has had an illustrious career as a dancer, teacher, choreographer and writer.
Here is Myrta compering the dance programmes at the IV Festival of India in Buenos Aires on 5 December 2011.Myrta has not only mastered Indian dances but has also become an Indian in spirit and personal life. She says she had two dreams; first to become a dancer and second to know India, the land of ancient culture and spiritual wisdom. She is happy that both her dreams have come true together. She starts her book on Indian dances saying, ¨My relationship with India has always been special. My long stay in India had been beautiful, interesting and profound¨. She has learnt Sanskrit and has read the works of Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharishi and Yogananda, among others. She is a vegetarian and avoids alcohol. She leads a disciplined Indian life in Buenos Aires, the city of distractions. And she has been successful in enforcing with an iron hand a strict discipline on her young Argentine students too. She is very particular about maintaining the purity and sanctity of the traditions of the classical dances of India.
Myrta with her disciples, who tremble in her presence...
Myrta started learning ballet at the age of eight and became a professional dancer in the ballet group of the prestigious Colon Theater of Argentina. She trained in Bharatnatyam in Kalakshetra and did her Arangetram there. Later she learnt Odissi from Guru Keluchara Mohapatra and got a Nritya Visharad degree from Kala Vikash Kendra in Orissa. She went on to learn Kuchipudi at the Kuchipudi Art Academy in Chennai, from Master Vempati Chinnasatyam.
Myrta with Rukmini Devi in Kalakshetra
Myrta has performed Indian classical dances in Argentina and other countries of Latin America as well as in Europe, Asia, Middle East and USA. In India, she has performed, among other places, in the palace of Maharaja of Baroda and in the Rashtrapati Bhavan where she was received by Presidents Radhakrishnan, Zakir Hussain and Zail Singh ( photo below)
Besides introducing and popularising Indian classical dances in Argentina, Myrta has instituitionalised Indian dance tradition by training others. Her disciples Natalia, Silvia, Indira and Leonara have become teachers and established their own schools. They are also devoted and committed to Indian dances, culture and spirituality. There are over thirty Argentines learning Indian classical dances in Buenos Aires. Every month, there is atleast one programme in the city.
Myrta has written a book on Indian classical dances, in spanish language, published by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) in 1996. This is a kind of text book on Indian dances for spanish language speakers. In this, she has covered all the classical Indian dances with details of technical and aesthetic aspects.
Here is the cover of the book with her picture.
Myrta is visiting India, at the invitation of ICCR, to update her book with more research and information. She will be in Chennai for one month from 27 December and in New Delhi for the next two months. While leaving for India, she told me she was ¨going home¨. She was nostalgic about the aroma of jasmine flowers and south Indian filter coffee, the sound of sanskrit mantras and the sight of the big banyan tree of Adyar.
I got carried away in the long conversation with Myrta and made a faux pas when I commented, ¨ Sixty years of dance.. Myrta..you still look young..¨ She gave me a look.. like Durga..For a moment I thought I was going to be burnt and vapourised. But she regained her composure quickly and said with a disarming and charming smile ¨ yes you are right. The long and regular practice of dance has kept me fit and young¨. It reminded me of the reply of an Argentine friend when I asked him the reason for the crisis in Argentina from time to time. He said, ¨ In Argentina, the women do not admit their age and the men do not act their age¨.